Compare Prescription Prices Online

Category: Finance

Retail prices for the same prescription can vary significantly from one pharmacy to another; there may even be big differences between stores of the same brand. It can pay big dividends to shop around, but shopping prescription prices is pretty difficult. Until now...

Finding the Best Prescription Prices

Americans spent $374 billion on prescription drugs in 2014, according to the latest report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. That’s over $3,081 per household.

Even with health insurance, prescriptions can take a big bite out of a tight budget. Traditional co-payments usually max out between $50 and $100 per prescription. Co-insurance is worse, replacing flat co-payments with percentages; effectively, there is no cap on the amount that the patient must pay. And if you have no prescription drug coverage, you’re going to feel the full pain of retail prices.

“Can you hold, please?” are the first words a pharmacy tech learns. Once they find out you’re shopping price, the hold time can get even longer. Some stores won’t even provide prices over the phone; they know that once you’re in the store, you’re likely to take whatever price they name.
Comparing Prescription Prices

But it does pay to shop around. The price difference for a prescription can be as much as $100 between two pharmacies in the same town. Often, there are coupons, discounts offered by the pharmacy or manufacturer, or cheaper alternative drugs available. And sometimes, your co-pay isn't the cheapest option. But it can take hours and hours of calling and/or online research to find the best price.

Enter the crowd-sourced online prescription price comparison tools! If we patients just pool our knowledge of local retail drug prices, each of us can find the cheapest neighborhood source of drugs. We might even shame some stores into lowering their out-of-line prices. There are a bunch of apps for this purpose, but they’re not all equal.

Tools for Online Drug Price Comparison

Consumer Reports compared four of the most widely used drug price comparison apps. Here’s a synopsis of the findings:

GoodRx is a free web-based tool, also available for iPhone/iPad and Android devices. It's rated the best of the four at finding the lowest prices in stores and online. You can search by medical condition, drug name, or pharmacy location (using Zip code or your GPS coordinates). It provides lots of savings tips as well as price comparisons.

GoodRx is a free service and you don't have to cough up any personal information to search for discounts on your medications. Their website says that they promise not to not sell your personal health information to anyone. In addition to the price search option, GoodRx has a Pill Identifier, tips for Medicare patients, and even tips on finding the best price for your pet's medications.

WeRX iOS only, found slightly higher prices than GoodRx did. (To be fair, Consumer Reports searched for only four drugs.) But WeRX found prices at a lot more local “mom-n-pop” stores than GoodRx did. The app also provides one-click reporting of a new location and price that you have found.

GoodRX and WeRX are crowd-sourced databases. LowestMed and Mobile Rx Card are apps for prescription discount “memberships,” a marketing gimmick that many feel is a scam. Their promoters claim that they entitle the “member” to discounts of 10% to 85% on prescription drugs. But at least one discount card pusher has been caught lying; its “discount” prices were no lower than regular cash prices at Family Pharmacy. The U. S. Better Business Bureaus found that most discount cards deliver much less than they promise.

Remember: if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Free discount cards are financed by pharmacies that pay for referrals, and for data about your prescription buying habits. Crowd-sourced apps like GoodRx or WebRX may not be perfect, but they’re probably more trustworthy.

Doctors are typically not aware of how much medications cost, or whether they will be covered by your health insurance. Always ask your doctor if there is a generic alternative for any drug that he or she prescribes, especially if you're paying out of pocket. That alone can cut the cost by hundreds of dollars. Don't hesitate to ask for samples or coupons, and by all means, use these online tools to compare prices at your local drugstores.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Compare Prescription Prices Online"

Posted by:

18 May 2015

GoodRx has been very useful for finding cash prices for drugs. It does provide coupons to print out or show on your phone that may provide substantial discounts. It also suggests similar products that you can ask your doctor to prescribe that may be less expensive. Very worthwhile.

Posted by:

Chopin Cusachs
18 May 2015

Few months ago my dermatologist gave me a prescription for an ointment to stop the growth of precancerous cells on my scalp. Took it to a major chain pharmacy and was told it would cost $225. So I drove 20 miles to the nearest VA clinic and gave it to the pharmacist who told me that if the VA doctor approved I would get it in the mail. A couple of weeks later it arrived. I was billed $8 for the generic with same active ingredient.

Posted by:

Mark W
18 May 2015

Try Walmart they have a 8 page 4 dollar prescription sheet up to 90 days. 90 days 10 bucks. Walgreen's constantly going up CVS way too high they are expensive if you buy over the counter .

Ask your DR for SAMPLES especially if your on Insulin.Most doctor's have samples for those with not allot of money.

Insulin 24 or 27 dollars for NPH three different types be sure to ask your doctor which one you need. It is cheaper than new Insulin's and can buy over the counter..

Posted by:

18 May 2015

Bob, pharmacies do not sell patient health or prescription information. That is prohibited by third party prescription companies and insurance companies do this.

Also, doctor's offices do have information on what is covered by insurance and know about drug cost. You are wrong on that. We have several in our family and they know about the cost of the drugs they prescribe.

If you buy medicine online, there is no guarantee that you get quality medicines. Many of these cheap drugs come from foreign countries and are fake or placebo medicines, while others are subpotent drugs. This is extremely dangerous.

I've been a pharmacist for 45 years and was with the State Board of Pharmacy for many years. I've seen just about everything including things most people are not aware of.

It's not worth endangering your health to save a few dollars!!!

Posted by:

18 May 2015

Hi Bob:

I noticed that you did not discuss the large discounts provided by Canadian based online pharmacies for both branded and generic drugs.

I have used to shop for medications from these sources with very good results.

Posted by:

18 May 2015

Right on, Bob. Doing Medicare counseling, I see these differences, both for the drug itself and for the "preferred" vs. not pharmacies. Insurance can help if used well, as you indicate. There are also the plans of such as Walmart for many generic maintenance drugs WITHOUT use of any insurance.
Finally, sites such as tell when/where to find manufacturer programs for high cost drugs.

Posted by:

18 May 2015

Recently, I used GoodRx to look up all my drugs. On the line for each local pharmacy listed, there is a button for a coupon or discount. I've used the coupon / discount at Walmart pharmacy and got a $550.00 drug reduced to $99.00 with NO Insurance used at all!

GoodRx isn't just good, it's GREAT!

Posted by:

18 May 2015

Information on this site is incomplete. I kept looking for Exelon Patches, (Brand) and never found them. It kept giving me Generic Capsules. Pharmacy Checker has a site which is complete and includes Canadian Pharmacies.

Posted by:

18 May 2015

I have done considerable shopping for my 5 rather inexpensive generic medicines, and came out with COSTCO saving me about 450 per year over Walmart. Costco has no price leaders like Walmart. All prescriptions are at a standard, but low markup. Further you do not need to be a member of Costco to buy their drugs. When you enter the store and they ask for your membership card, just say you are buying from the pharmacy and they let you go. Now you can't buy anything else in the store if you are not a member, but the drugs, you can (Federal law). Also try to buy a 3 month supply at a time. Walmart was cheaper on a 1 month supply for one of my medicines, but was beaten by Costco on the 3 month price (Metformen). So I pay about $50 every 3 months total for 5 meds.

Posted by:

Robert A
18 May 2015

Most of the major pharmacy chains, as well as some of the major general merchandise chains and supermarkets that have internal pharmacies - Walmart, Target, Kmart, Kroger, Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS, among others, quite often have printable price lists on their webpages, for generic medicines. Quite often, though, the prices for generics are very close from chain to chain. But, in comparison to the name-brand drugs (those advertised on TV and radio) the prices on the generic versions, if available as a generic, can be quite substantial. It pays to shop around.

Posted by:

18 May 2015

Bob, I don't advocate using Big Box/etc pharmacies when there's a huge gap in pricing (see above, but that possibility was only available through the VA and far too many of us don't have that option); however using the big chain pharmacies eventually will drive community-based independent pharmacies out of business. We live on Maui and have switched our meds from a small CVS/Long's to a new independent about the same distance away; indeed, the new independent was started by former professionals of the chain, and before moving to Maui 10 years ago this week from Takoma Park, MD, we used a small independent in downtown DC for 20 years.

Posted by:

18 May 2015

Bob, With all the counterfeiting going on the last thing I would buy on line are meds. About 10 years ago they discovered counterfeit aircraft parts. They showed how bad it is in other areas last week on again on 20/20. It mostly buyer beware because the Government can't catch them all. So beware. I call last week from a tell a marketer and his accent was so thick I couldn't tell if he was trying to sell me "Medications or Med Vacation." I just told I was good, have a nice day and put me on your no call list.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I wasn't suggesting anyone buy meds online. I was encouraging the use of online tools to find the best price at a local pharmacy.

Posted by:

18 May 2015

We gave drug insurance. Around here, pharmacists tell us that there is no way they can tell us what the price is for insurance-covered prescriptions until we actually order the prescriptions. How can we compare insurance-covered drug prices to non-covered prices when we have to buy the insurance covered product before we know what that actual cost will be??

Posted by:

Alex Toth
19 May 2015

Apologies for the mangled Latin, but as a Canadian senior with government and private group insurance for almost all medicines and health care, I fear that "Canadian" pharmacies in the U.S. very rarely have anything to do with your Northern neighbour (Cdn sp).
Within the last week, one of your big networks (possibly on 20/20) ran an excellent program on shady pharmacy practices: some drugs bought thru Cdn outlets were shipped from Switzerland to U.K. to U.S., but made in India.
That broadcast is a must see.

Posted by:

19 May 2015

Also you can check your local supermarket or big box pharmacy website. Mine has a huge (printable)list of generics that cost $3.99 for one month and $9.99 for three months supply.

Posted by:

23 May 2015

I am on an employer insurance plan that forces the use of one pharmacy (CVS) for ongoing meds, however, some are still very expensive and I have to reach a high out of pocket cost before the insurance kicks in. I plan to use your suggestion to compare pricing. What worries me about ALL these companies is where they obtain there meds. Certain countries have a bad reputation for anything they produce. Would you or anyone on this post know of any way to find out the origins of meds.?

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